How to Consume Oak – Nature’s Powerhouse
Mankind is inextricably tied to the great oak tree and its many varieties. This great tree has afforded us a living in the most desolate times of our early history and even in more recent centuries.
Based on archaeological evidence it’s interesting that we find ourselves considering the acorn and the oak yet again as a possible survival food.
“During the pre-agricultural period acorns were an important plant food resource for hunter-gatherers in Europe. Archaeological evidence supports the conclusion that acorns have always been an attractive food resource within various resource strategies, including agrarian societies. In prehistoric agricultural communities, acorns may have played a role as food substitute or reserve for bad times, reserved for emergencies, for example when cereal agriculture had failed.”
The Native Americans ate lots of acorns and many historians believe, particularly on the west coast, that these acorns helped them subsist and avoid famine even in some of the worst times. The settlers didn’t seem to notice, at first, that the oaks were planted purposefully and that Native Americans developed orchards of oaks to sustain them.
When I first started down the survival path one of my earliest discoveries was that of tannic acid. I have always loved the idea of wild edibles and some are delicious while others will simply keep you alive. Acorns are everywhere so naturally they were one of the first foods I tasted. I hoped there were better prizes waiting in the woods than this big old, bitter acorn.
Since that day, I have learned much more about acorns. Most importantly those smaller acorns from the white oaks are the best to eat and contain the least amount of tannic acid. They will still need to be processed but it will pay off.
Related: How to Use Acorns as Survival Food
Tannins may sound familiar to you and that’s because they give red wine some of its unique taste. To remove this bitterness from the acorns they need to be shelled and soaked in cold water. Soak them for a couple hours and then change the water to soak again.
In ancient times, they would submerge and anchor sacks or baskets of acorns into the river allowing this constants flow of cold water to wash the bitterness away.
These acorns will be sweeter after soaking and leaching out that bitterness. They can then be roasted or made into a flour or paste. The flour was very popular in bread-making and I think you can even purchase acorn flour to this day online.
Traces of acorns and acorn shells have been found all over the world at archaeological dig sites. It’s clear this was a staple food of many humans in the ancient eras like the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and even Neolithic after we had developed agriculture.
OAK MEAT? YES, THE WILD MUSHROOMS
Acorn fall and quantity are an annual precursor to wild game activity and availability. As hunters, we are always happy when we have a year of good mast (a variety of shrub and tree produced foods, acorn is always a big part) that bring wild turkeys, squirrels and various types of ungulates like white-tailed deer.
Whether we consume the acorns themselves or the creatures that consume the acorns it is the mighty oak that still provides. These piles of acorns have also become a favorite food of the highly invasive wild pig. Now some would call this creature invasive but I look at this exploding numbers of pork chops and wonder why companies aren’t harvesting this “Free Range Pork” and turning it into profits. This meat is head and shoulders better than anything available at the typical grocery store.
“CHICKEN OF THE WOODS”
Maybe a better description of oak meat would be those delicious, bright orange “chicken of the woods” mushrooms. They are also called Sulphur shelf as well and are highly recognizable because of how and where they grow. These mushrooms do not have gills which sets them apart from many that grow on the forest floor. Their distinct color makes them very easy to identify.
They are called “chicken of the woods” because their thick and meaty lobes taste like chicken when sautéed. I am assuming the name Sulphur shelf was given for the brilliant orange color they present as well.
“HEN OF THE WOODS”
There is another delicious mushroom that grows at the base of live oaks. These are dark grey bunches of mushrooms called “Hen of the Woods”. These are more delicate than the robust chicken of the woods but are just as delicious. I have seen these sold in supermarkets as Maitake mushrooms which is the Japanese name.
Even in death the mighty oak tree provides. On fallen oaks you can find one of my favorite mushrooms of all. In the late part of summer the delicate Chanterelle doesn’t mind growing out of the oak’s dense wood. These are an exceptional wild mushroom and are found on menus in some of the best restaurants in the whole world. I like to eat mine with minced garlic sautéed in butter with fresh thyme to finish them.
The oak can help us in ways that transcend the consumable.
- That nasty tannic acid that we are so ready to remove from our acorns is antibacterial and can be used by saving the water that it is leached into. This is great for topical uses on cuts and scrapes. In a survival situation throwing away anything is the last possible option.
- The shade of the oak should not be mocked either. It is essential on sweltering days, particularly if you are trying to hike out of a bad spot. If you are lost on a trail resting under a giant oak can protect you from the sun and help cool your body.
- Of course, the density of the wood makes it ideal for building structures and tools or even weapons like spears. If you aren’t so interested in being found or finding your way out of the woods oak is a great material to build your new shelter from.
- Those limbs and fallen branches of oak will also keep you warm at night. The oak will not only provide food but it will also help cook it.
- Oak wood is universally recognized as a superior building material (hardwood flooring, furniture)
- Oak is also a great source of fuel. It’s known as a superior firewood due to its density, hardness and high heating rating.
This tree has been an ally in mankind’s survival since we were cracking stones to make tools. If you find yourself living off the land spend time around the oak. You will find food among other things.
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